A student sued her former sociology teacher, alleging that he violated her First Amendment rights by attempting to compel her to write the Pledge of Allegiance and by retaliating against her when she refused. Texas state law says that public schools must require students to recite the pledge every school day. However, the law also says that schools must excuse students from this obligation upon written request from the student's parent or guardian.
The student was a young Black woman who objected to reciting the pledge because she believed that, contrary to the words in the pledge, there is not "freedom and justice for all" in America due to racial discrimination. Her mother communicated with the school via email to express her support for her daughter, saying that her "desire to not say the pledge is not an opinion, it is a constitutional right."
The principal held a meeting with the student's teachers and instructed them that the student was not required to recite the pledge. Despite this, her sociology teacher gave the class an assignment to write the words of the pledge. The student refused to complete the assignment. The next day, the teacher told the class that anyone who did not complete the assignment would receive a zero and engaged in a long speech to the class about what he viewed as the "decline of American values" and compared people who chose not to say the pledge to communists, supporters of Sharia law and defenders of pedophilia.
In the days that followed, he treated the student in a hostile manner by repeatedly moving her seat, calling her by the wrong name and making disparaging comments about her accomplishments in extracurricular activities. He also played Christian music in class at the beginning of a unit on suicide and stared pointedly and continuously at the student as the song played. The teacher was reprimanded by administrators for his actions toward the student.
The teacher filed a motion to request that the lawsuit be dismissed, arguing that he was immune from suit. The court denied that request and the teacher appealed to the Court of Appeals. On appeal, the court noted that the United States Supreme Court has held that the First Amendment forbids requiring saluting or pledging allegiance to the flag. In other words, a public school student has a First Amendment right to refuse to say the pledge. The court also found that a school district official engages in unconstitutional retaliation when they take actions that are designed to prevent the student from refusing.
The court of appeals held that a jury could conclude that the teacher's actions as described above constitute retaliation against the student for exercising her lawful right to decline to recite the Pledge of Allegiance. Therefore, the motion to dismiss the case should be denied and the case should be permitted to go to trial.
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